Sooke’s new fire chief is already lighting up hearts in the community.
Kenn Mount, a 12-year veteran with the fire service, left his fire chief job with the Columbia Shuswap Regional District to come to Sooke.
Mount replaces Steve Sorensen, who retired last summer.
Before coming to Sooke, Mount, who started his new position on Jan. 1, looked after 13 fire departments, more than 300 firefighters, and 56 firefighting equipment and vehicles.
“Being here, in a municipality, close to the trucks, to the apparatus, and having that nice balance of operations and being close with the firefighting staff is really one of the motives why I saw this as an opportunity,” Mount said, adding he’s always regarded Vancouver Island as a potential place to continue his career.
“I’ve got many years to serve and lots experience to bring to this community,” he said. “I was very selective of where I wanted to advance my career, so being on the Island is very ideal.”
Born in Ontario and growing up in Saskatchewan, Mount attended University of Saskatchewan, working for a while in IT before working as a ski instructor and coach. He eventually returned to IT, ending up in California, where he worked for five years.
It wasn’t until 2003, however, when Mount got his first exposure to firefighting, when massive wildfires were laying ruin to both B.C. and Southern California. At the time, he was part of a mountain area task force working for a digital technology company when he became an evacuee.
Having survived the ordeal, Mount saw it more as an inspiration to begin his career as a firefighter, rather than a traumatic experience.
“I went through the whole scope of firefighting, from an evacuee, to a volunteer firefighter, to a paid on-call training officer, then moving through the ranks, a career chief officer, and here I am in a composite fire department.”
After moving back to Canada in 2005, Mount said it definitely “clicked.”
“Helping out the community, doing something for yourself, learning the trade, the benefits of the fire service … it all has an exciting element to it,” he said.
Mount has also been an active athlete for most of his life, skiing and competing as a cyclist on the Canadian national team until retiring from it in 1990. He was also on the Saskatchewan provincial team for five years.
“Now I have more of a fire chief’s frame,” he laughed, adding that while it may seem trivial, he finds a strong connection between firefighting and staying in shape.
“You get to fulfil that athletic drive in your life.”
Former colleague Sean Coubrough, now acting fire chief in Shuswap, considered Mount to be a good friend and mentor.
“He has a great wealth of knowledge regarding the fire service, committed to fire safety both with the public and his own firefighters, and making sure everyone comes home from a call,” he said, adding Mount is someone very easy to relate to.
“He keeps that sense of humor where possible and he’s a very good judge of character,” Coubrough said. “Our loss is definitely Sooke’s gain on this one.”
Like any other volunteer fire department, bringing in more recruits is a challenge as Sooke’s demand grows, but Mount feels he’s in the right place.
“Operationally, what I’ve seen so far is that’s not going to be too difficult, because there’s such a good crew that’s well trained up here,” he said, adding he wants to work with the next recruit class and really make them feel part of the team early.
His short-term goals is learning Sooke Fire Rescue’s capabilities, equipment, how it serves the community and where it can be streamlined.
“It’s about making sure that the residents are getting the best bang for their buck as far as what we’re rolling out the door every day,” he said.
Fire prevention in Sooke will also get a ramp-up, ensuring residents are protecting themselves properly.
“I never forget about fire prevention, so we’re going to be more visible in the coming year as far as inspecting properties,” Mount said.
Part firefighter, part musician
When he’s not chasing down a fire, or planning any rescue, Mount plays the guitar, a hobby that led him to play in an alternative rock band for the last five years back in Shuswap, something he says was hard to leave behind. Not that he won’t start another one here in Sooke.
“You may see me building a new bond, I’ve already been poking a few of the firefighters here, you’re a drummer, you’re a base player, and so on,” Mount chuckled.